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Madison Students Help Bring Education to Malawi - African Students Take Teaching Tools Home
Five people from one of the world's least developed countries have moved to the next phase of their American education.

A group of teachers from Malawi - an African country that ranks among the world's most densely populated - headed to Madison Elementary School on Monday. There, they will spend three days visiting classrooms and studying administrative duties like budgeting, faculty evaluations and scheduling.

The five, who are all students at Lakeland College, plan to return to their African country in May to train new teachers.

"It's embracing our children back home, and you are looking to more people to (help) so we can continue building schools instead of (teaching) under trees," said Rebecca Makanga, 33, one of the teachers.

The teachers are the latest soon-to-be-graduates of the Malawi Teacher Education Initiative, a partnership among Lakeland College and the Malawi and U.S. governments.

Each year, those groups foot the bill for five teachers from Malawi to live in Sheboygan County and attend Lakeland.

The teachers spend three years studying for their bachelor's degrees in education. They then return to Malawi, where they eventually work for a teacher training college.

Since the initiative began in 1999, it has brought 50 teachers to Lakeland.

"If you're trying to develop a country, helping that country's education system is really the place to start," said program director Jeff Elzinga.

Elzinga, a professor of writing at Lakeland, once worked as a U.S. diplomat and lived in Malawi for three years. When he returned to Wisconsin, he wanted to continue helping the African country.

"It's one of the poorest 10 countries in the world, but it's a tremendous resource of people with a desire to learn," he said.

One of the biggest struggles the country faces - aside from a rapidly spreading AIDS epidemic - is a shortage of schools and teachers, the natives said.

Massive political changes in 1994 led to the abolishment of education fees. Student enrollment nearly doubled, and schools have struggled to keep up.

The Malawi Teacher Education Initiative helps "beef up" the number of teachers, said Fabson Chambwe, 36, a teacher.

"It's tough. Malawi is poor, and being poor the government cannot manage to do everything on its own, so we have fewer schools," he said.

The program, which has a rigorous application process, forces the students to leave behind their families in Africa. Most have spouses and children.

"It's the love of our country. There was a need of more teachers. That's why we sacrificed," said Moses Madzedze, 36.

Sheboygan County students are learning from the Africans, too, said Madison principal Matt Driscoll.

"They can learn directly about another culture and country from someone who's actually from there," he said. "It's not a textbook in social studies. It's not a video. They're learning from an actual person."

The five students - including Tamara Mabviko, 36, and Nancy Nyirenda, 36 - will return to Malawi in May and officially graduate later this year after stints in Malawi schools.

The next group of students arrives in the U.S. in August.

Sheboygan Area School District Press Release
March 17, 2009